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These Are The Stories

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     Genealogy is a passion that many people share across the globe. Just as technology has made the world smaller and brought us all closer, so does the research of finding our family, near and far. And sometimes circumstances arise that give us an opportunity to help others who are seeking their loved ones.


     This story starts with a spring walk on the beautiful holiday-island of Langeoog. While taking a sunny stroll on the beach, Mr. Björn Rys, a guest found an object along the waterline. A brief inspection identified it as a U.S. military dogtag, belonging to a S/Sgt Harry L. Stokes. After a quick search on FindAGrave, a free website which offers researchers an ability to share ancestor information organized by cemetery locations, S/Sgt Stokes was found. Information obtained stated that he came from Pennsylvania but there were no other details. The local Langeoog Newspaper was contacted with the hopes of finding a family member so the dogtag could be returned. Mr. Klaus Kremer, the newspaper editor, put out an announcement asking for assistance from researchers in the U.S. to find S/Sgt Stokes’ relatives. Mr. Omks Haupt, a regular visitor to Langeoog, saw this post and contacted a fellow genealogy researcher in Maryland, Mr. Ron Nielson, to see if someone could be found to claim the artifact. Mr. Nielson promptly jumped into the research, seeking clues to family members. What was found was even more heartwarming and heartbreaking than expected. But first, please bear with me while I share with you Mr. Stokes’ story.

     Harry L. Stokes was born 22 January 1921 in Emlenton, Pennsylvania[1] to Katherine B. Shoup and Van Buran Stokes; he had one brother (Eugene), one sister (Evelyn), two step-brothers (Arthur and Howard), and two step-sisters (Ruth and Emma). The 1930 and 1940 censuses[2] show him living in McKean County, Foster, Pennsylvania with his parents; Harry and his siblings still residing at home are attending school. Their story is of a typical family in that region and in that time-period, the mother working in the home and the father laboring at one of the many oil fields. Harry completed high school and started work in the oil fields himself, being hired on at H.B. Oil Company. His family lineage is the same as many Americans living in Pennsylvania, dating to the U.S. Revolutionary War and also sprinkled with more recent European immigrants.


     When the U.S. declared war on Japan 7 December 1941, just one day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Harry answered the call. His records show a draft registration date of 16 February 1942[3] and an enlistment date of 23 July 1942[4], first training in the United States and then serving overseas as a technical engineer on the B17 bombers. The 91st Bomb Group was an air combat unit of the United States Army Air Forces during the Second World War. Classified as a heavy bombardment group, the 91st operated B-17 Flying Fortress aircraft and was known unofficially as “The Ragged Irregulars” or as “Wray’s Ragged Irregulars” after the commander who took the group to England.[5].

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     Now for the story that truly matters the most; about two young people in love. In 1940, Harry was 19, working at his academics and enjoying pastimes of baseball club and big band dances. He met Jean, who was 17, at one of these local dances, where she attended with her brother. Harry was captivated with her and asked for a dance. After that evening, he sent a card via her brother, asking for a date. With some conditions, her parents agreed and thus began Harry's courting of Jean. They went on double-dates and attended many baseball games. When Harry was drafted in 1942, they continued to maintain correspondence and when Harry was scheduled to be sent overseas for combat duty to the 323rd on 16 May 1943, Jean flew to Tennessee on 17 June 1943 where they were married. [6]


     S/Sgt Stokes was assigned to the B-17 Flying Fortress aircrafts, which flew out of Bassingbourn, England, where he flew 76 missions. On 27 September 1943, six B-17 planes were headed to Emden, Germany to bomb an industrial plant. Three of these B-17s were shot down and lost in the North Sea, including Rebel's Revenge on which S/SGT Stokes was serving as a gunnery engineer. Technical Sergeant Harry L. Stokes was subsequently awarded the Purple Heart Medal, Air Medal.[7] This medal is awarded in the name of the President of the United States to a member of the Armed Forces who, while serving under competent authority in any capacity with one of the U.S. Armed Services, has been wounded or killed.[8] A monument in the Netherlands also commemorates these men who lost their lives during this bombing mission.[9]


     Yet these are the stories that do not end and what makes genealogy such a rewarding hobby and occupation. This story needs to continue with Jean, the woman who waited at home for Harry, the woman who only three months after her marriage was notified that her husband was missing in action, the woman who more than 75 years later still wondered what had happened to her husband. After Harry and Jean were married, she stayed with Harry's parents while he reported for duty in Nebraska and then was sent overseas on 7 August 1943.[10] When word came that Harry was missing in action/lost at sea, she mourned the loss of her husband, and assisted Harry’s parents through their grief as well. She then enlisted in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in the Army Air Forces (AAF) on 30 December 1944. The WAAC was formed to ensure American women who served in support of the Army would also receive the rights and benefits afforded to Soldiers. The AAF were assigned to positions as weather forecasters and observers, electrical specialists, sheet metal workers, link trainer instructors, control tower specialists, airplane mechanics, photo-laboratory technicians and photo interpreters.[11] Jean served in the WAAC/AAF from 1 January 1945 to 24 May 1946, at which time she was honorably discharged with the rank of Sergeant.[12] While tending her duties at the messaging/payroll office, she met her future husband who was a Solider in the U.S. Army. Her and Thomas were married on 3 May 1946 at the Post Chapel in Langley Field, Virginia[13] and they created a family and memories. Today Jean enjoys life with her five children, 10 grandchildren, three step grandchildren, 12 great grandchildren, and five great great grandchildren. Nevertheless, over all these years of treasured reminiscences and present-day activities with her family, Jean has often thought of Harry and wondered what had happened. This clearly reveals that no one is truly gone while they still live on in another’s heart.

[1] The National Archives in St. Louis, Missouri; St. Louis, Missouri; WWII Draft Registration Cards for Pennsylvania, 10/16/1940 - 03/31/1947; Record Group: Records of the Selective Service System, 147; Box: 2440

[2]  1930 U.S. census, McKean County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Foster Township, p. 22B (stamped), dwelling 495, families 78-85, Stokes; FHL microfilm: 2341813
1940 U.S. census, McKean County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Foster Township, p. 11B (stamped), dwelling 203, families 62-67, Stokes; Roll: m-t0627-03568

[3] The National Archives, Pennsylvania; Selective Service Registration Cards, World War II: Multiple Registrations 1942

[4] National Archives and Records Administration; World War II and Korean Conflict Veterans Interred Overseas; published 2000

[5] Havelaar, Marion H., and Hess, William N., “The Ragged Irregulars of Bassingbourn: The 91st Bombardment Group in World War II”. ISBN 978-0-88740-810-6

[6] Jean’s remembrances, as told by her daughter Linda

[7] 91st Bomb Group; Transcribed by Nancy Perri; The 91st Dailies, Dailies of the 323rd Squadron, 1943; (http://www.91stbombgroup.com/Dailies/323rd1-1to3-30-43.html : posted 25 February 2004)

[8] Wikipedia; Purple Heart; (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purple_Heart : updated 1 July 2019)

[9] National Archives and Records Administration. World War II and Korean Conflict Veterans Interred Overseas [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2000.

[10] Newspaper article from Jean’s personal collection, “Sgt. H. Stokes Is Reported as Lost in Action”

[11] U.S. Army; Women in the Army, A History, World War II, Creation of the Women’s Army Corps; (https://www.army.mil/women/history/wac.html : accessed 11 July 2019)

[12] Ancestry.com. Pennsylvania, Veteran Compensation Application Files, WWII, 1950-1966

[13] Virginia Department of Health; Richmond, Virginia; Virginia Marriages, 1936-2014;Roll: 101167497


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